On Vegetables. And dinner details.

Radishes, my favorite

I get it. Cooking vegetables is a huge “food trend” these days.

But that’s not going to stop me from cooking them. In fact, I think it’s a great thing– a task that I hope more chefs take to with vigor and open eyes.

I never imagined that I’d want to direct my career in a path where cooking vegetables would be the great majority of what I want to put out on menus. Hell, I grew up the fat kid. And let me tell you, it’s hard growing up the fat kid without loving to eat meat proteins. But things just happened that way: I ended up at Green Zebra restaurant in Chicago for my externship even though I thought I was going to be working at their (now-defunct) sister restaurant Spring and was introduced to the joys of turning cases upon cases of artichokes because I got there just in time for the spring season. When I moved to Napa, we happened to move within biking distance from Ubuntu, and I felt so compelled to work there that I pulled the ol’ Grant Achatz-move and sent it what probably amounted to 8 resumes and four walk-ins “to see if I can talk to the chef” in less than a month’s time-span before obtaining an unpaid job for the first couple months. And working “for” the garden that they’ve cultivated up there– well, let’s just say that garden was the most fickle boss I’ve ever had.

But the lessons that Chefs McClain and Bulkowski at Zebra, and Chefs Fox, and London at ubuntu taught me on how to look at vegetables with different perspective than rather just the same ol’ “line veg on a plate with some polenta/pasta/risotto” I think has helped me in other areas of cooking, on how to look at the dynamics of an item rather than their end being.

Vegetables and fruits to me are exciting. Their variety in numbers is only rivaled by maybe fish. But trying to understand their textures and flavors within the never-ending barrage of terrior, ripeness, growing conditions, weather, and handlers keeps me often-times confused and intrigued. Cooking with them is often a dizzying and frustrating task because they hardly ever come out the same way it did the time previously. Their ability to be sweet, bitter, acidic, grassy, and even almost gamey at times make them great products to work with. But figuring out the best “parts” of the vegetable and trying to figure out new uses for previously trashed waste of the items is a rewarding game of trial and error, and one that’s taken and taking me a lifetime to grasp. I suppose that’s why cooking is so fun though.

But to answer an Eater Austin commenter, that’s why we’re calling these dinners vegetable-focused as opposed to vegetarian. I’m not trying to play to any favors in dietary restrictions or or make any sort of political stance. I’m not cooking vegetarian because of the fact that it’s vegetarian, but because I just really, really enjoy cooking vegetables. We just want to make the products the star of the show Which is why I’ve learned to say “vegetable-focused,” because, well, it is. But if I need to split hairs, yes, it’s a vegetarian dinner.

That being said, these dinners aren’t vegan, we’re not bringing in new pans or cooktops or anything that may have touched meat, but I am really excited to cook for the Austin crowd. My wife, the forever Longhorn, sees Austin as our second home and first choice as a retirement city or dropping-all-our-worldly-possessions-to-live-as-bums-because-we-can’t-find-a-job city. Whichever comes first. We love the vibe, the people, and Austin itself.

So beyond all this, Chefs Ned and Jodi Elliot of Foreign and Domestic will be lending me and a few friends their kitchen and dining room for one night: Sunday, October 9th.  Bobby Heugel and Chris Frankel from Anvil Bar and Refuge will be pairing all sorts of drinks, and David Buehrer and Ecky Prabanto of Greenway Coffee and Tea are coming to provide some quality caffeination. Most of all, I just hope it’ll be a fun night where we can serve the Austin food and chef community.

We’ll have two seatings: a supper 5:30 seating and a dinner 8:30 seating. The cost is $75 payable via PayPal at the time of the confirmation of your reservation. You can make your reservation by emailing:


We’ll start taking reservations at tomorrow, Tuesday, September 20th at 10 AM.

We look forward to be cooking and pouring for you all up in Austin or for whoever wants to travel to enjoy. But the biggest thanks goes to the Elliots. They really have a great vision up in Austin and we hope you’ll do your best to support them on a weekly basis and also if and when they continue their guest chef series.

Thanks again and hope to see many of you soon!

The ubuntu garden, 2010

About Justin

We cook, and bake at Oxheart Restaurant in Houston, TX. www.oxhearthouston.com
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4 Responses to On Vegetables. And dinner details.

  1. Lazysmurf says:

    Will you be able to accomadate vegans? I would love to come it sounds fantastic!

  2. Pingback: 2011: a year in food | tasty bits

  3. Pingback: ChuckEats » In Remembrance of Ubuntu (Napa)

  4. But the answer is simple: If you savor the taste of how
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